A fringe meeting on the Trade Union Freedom Bill was held at Women’s TUC.
The concept of a such a Bill has won the support of over 100 Labour MPs since the Trade Union Congress 2005 called for a campaign to free our unions. Its aim is to begin to roll back the long standing restrictions on collective action by trade unions that were brought in under the Tories and continued by this Blair-led Labour Government. If adopted the Bill would give us stronger rights in the workplace and give working women and men a platform to resist the ruthless employers of the 21st century.
This Bill has particular importance for working women, and delegates and visitors to this years Women’s TUC would have been more aware than most of the change to working women’s lives that such positive rights could bring. We need strengthened rights to take collective action to deal with key issues for women workers such as low pay, pensions, discrimination at work, and work-life balance.
After the extremely disappointing recommendations of the Women and Work Commission it is even more important to take a more realistic approach to the continuing problems of the gender pay gap based on empowering women at work. Instead of blaming women for choosing the wrong jobs we should be arguing for stronger rights to organise and take action so we can tackle the institutionalised sexism where it matters — at the workplace. The challenge for the trade union movement is to see any increased collective power used to focus on women workers demands.
The Trade Union Freedom Bill calls for collective rights to take industrial action including an updating of the law on balloting, restrictions on the use of strike breaking labour and most importantly the legal right to take solidarity action. That along with the other basic rights in the Bill promise a new way in which we can appeal to those millions of working women and men who are not organised by the Labour movement — join the union because together we can win.